FAYETTEVILLE – Forget about calling this the “Battle Line Rivalry.”
“Roots” seems the more apt description of this Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Missouri Tigers finale to the SEC season kicking off at 2:30 p.m. Friday on CBS national television at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Not just the kind of “Roots” described in Alex Haley’s book but roots rooted so fiercely intertwined tangled that Roto Rooter couldn’t cut them through them.
For starters, Mizzou grad/Tigers letterman former assistant coach and 2016-2019 Mizzou head coach is completing Year Two as defensive coordinator for Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman, Missouri’s offensive line coach in 2000 some 13 years before coaching Arkansas’ offensive line, 2013-2015 and 20 years before becoming Arkansas’ head coach.
Ironically an Arkansan, Eliah Drinkwitz of Alma, replaced Odom as Mizzou’s head coach.
Among others Odom recruited for Mizzou include right from under Arkansas’ ignoring nose two of the Tigers’ better players bedeviling Arkansas the last three years of the Tigers’ 5-game winning streak in their annual SEC East vs. SEC West crossover game.
Receiver Barrett Banister, the grandson of retired Razorbacks player/assistant coach/recruiting coordinator/Razorback Foundation President, Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee icon Harold Horton, and nephew of current Air Force special teams coordinator and former Razorbacks player/assistant coach/ recruiting coordinator and Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Tim Horton, and defensive tackle Akial Byers were so lightly recruited the by the Razorbacks they grew up watching as toddlers through winning the state championship for Fayetteville High School, that they went to Mizzou.
The Hogs have paid dearly for those Bret Bielema era mistakes. Particularly with Byers recovering a fumble for Mizzou’s third touchdown in a 38-0 slaughter of the Hogs in 2018, and Banister, 14 catches the last three years including an 18-yarder fueling the winning drive in last year’s 50-48 epic.
Both Banister and Byers say they take this game personally.
“I think whenever somebody says that they don’t want you and they don’t think you’re good enough, whether they inherently meant that or not …,” Banister said. “It put a chip on my shoulder. It’s been motivation for me throughout my whole college career.”
Las Vegas oddsmakers may have enhanced that chip establishing Arkansas a 14-point favorite.
Arkansas has a couple of motivated Mizzou related starting defensive linemen on its side Friday. Tre Williams, first transferring to Houston and then to Arkansas, and Markell Utsey, after last year under Drinkwitz following three years under Odom, reunited as Hogs in Fayetteville.
Throw in that Mizzou defensive line coach Alfred Davis is a UA grad and former Razorbacks defensive lineman, and Arkansas linebackers coach Michael Scherer, played and coached for Odom at Mizzou and cornerbacks coach Sam Carter accompanied Odom from Columbia, Mo. to Fayetteville.
Seems it’s got all the makings of a “Family Feud” Jerry Springer hosted.
It also has the makings of a fierce football game which last year’s 50-48 track meet certainly was in Columbia.
Both Pittman’s 7-4, 3-4 in the SEC West 25th ranked by the College Football Playoff Hogs and Drinkwitz’s 6-5, 3-4 in the SEC East, conclude their 2021 season bowl eligible and angling to better their bowl picture.
Mizzou’s bowl picture appeared nonexistent when its defense leaked 173 points in four games, three of them losses to Boston College and in the SEC to Tennessee and Texas A&M.
However, the defense stiffened. Other than No. 1 Georgia, 43-6 over Mizzou and 37-0 over Arkansas, the Tigers have won SEC games over Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida with defense performing well. Mizzou defensive tackle Trajan Jeffcoat was last Monday named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his performances against Florida.
Mizzou place-kicker Harrison Mevis was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week for kicking three field goals in the, 24-23 overtime victory over Florida just like the preceding week Arkansas kicker Cam Little was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week for his three field goals in the 16-13 overtime Arkansas victory at LSU.
Offensively the Tigers have a veteran quarterback,
Connor Bazelak, who beat Arkansas last year, and the SEC’s leading rusher, Tyler Badie, the running back with 1,385 rushing yards, also Mizzou’s most prolific receiver, 53 catches.
Arkansas coming off a last Saturday gut-wrencher playing then No. 2 Alabama to the wire in Tuscaloosa, Ala. before losing, 42-35, seeks an Odom inspired defensive rebound.
Offensively, Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson, 306 all purpose yards and three touchdown passes against Mizzou in his lone 2020 start with now NFL quarterback Feleipe Franks injured, and receiver Treylon Burks, 10 catches for 206 yards and a touchdown, seek repeating not only their 2021 performances posted in Columbia but last week in Tuscaloosa.
Against the Crimson Tide, Jefferson completed 22 of 30 for 326 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Burks caught 8 for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
Arkansas’ offensive line has caught sufficient attention for it being one of 13 semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award honoring the nation’s best offensive line and for first-year offensive line coach Cody Kennedy being among 15 semifinalists for the Broyles Award honoring the nation’s top assistant coach.